An effort to require television stations to make records about political ad buys available online was blocked Thursday by Republicans on a House Appropriations Committee panel.
The proposal, which had cleared the Federal Communications Commission in April, would require TV stations affiliated with the four top networks in the 50 largest markets to post political ad sales records online. Stations are already required to make the records available to the public upon request, but most stations keep them in paper files, making it difficult to compile and track the information.
The files include the rates charged for political spots, the dates the spots aired and the class of time purchased.
Broadcasters, who are expected to reap as much as $3 billion from political ad sales this year, had lobbied heavily against the proposal, arguing that it would cost too much money and would force them to reveal information that would make them less competitive.
Stations are required to offer their lowest ad rates to political campaigns, so making the information easier for the public to access would help inform the station’s competitors and their other customers about the prices they’re charging. ("Super" PACs are not entitled to the lowest rates.)
The House Appropriations Committee’s financial services subcommittee voted Thursday on a party-line vote to approve a funding bill that included a rider blocking the FCC from implementing its proposal.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) had attempted unsuccessfully to strip the rider from the bill before the committee’s vote.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) argued that “television station fiscal matters are private and should be kept private.”
Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, one of the organizations that has been pushing to have the files put online, said the argument was “contrary to existing laws that have been on the books for decades,” because the information is already available to the public. She said the argument that switching from paper would be a burden for stations “is ridiculous on its face.”
Meanwhile, some in the media have sought to make the files public on their own. ProPublica has asked people to visit their local TV stations and submit the paper files for publication here. And a group of journalism students from Kent State University, responding to a similar challenge from Bill Moyers, made a video illustrating how cumbersome the task can be.